First Pillar: Your Breath

Oxygen gives life. Every cell needs the gas to survive, so your body adapted an efficient system to ensure a constant supply. Starvation is a slow process, dehydration a little faster, and oxygen deprivation a matter of seconds. The breath is the most important physiological function regulated by the oldest part of your brain known as the cerebellum.

THE SPARK

Life starts with a spark that travels down your spine and into your muscles to expand your rib-cage. Breathing happens unconsciously. You breathe whether you think about it or not. The default mode is through the nose where built-in filters warm and purify the air before sending it down into the lungs.

This effortless and silent process derives another important molecule from the nose that gets projected into your airways. Nitric Oxide assists a vast range of physiological functions, from increased oxygen absorption by the lungs to blood pressure regulation, immunity, and improved brain signalling.

The Detrimental Impact of Mouth Breathing

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Mouth-breathing offers none of these benefits. The inefficient and louder backup plan kicks in if the nose gets blocked or when you find yourself under stress and anxiety.

Mouth-breathing disturbs the body's inner balance. The shift impairs several nerves in charge of functions such as the depth of your breaths and your abdominal tone, along with control of the diaphragm crucial for oxygen intake. Poor breathing biomechanics will recruit the most significant muscle of the neck. The tension accumulated over time pulls the rib cage up and reduces torso mobility.

Forward head posture is an adaptation of this disrupted balance over time. Each breath loads the neck and jaw muscles, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Chronic mouth-breathers must bend their necks forward to let oxygen pass through the oral cavity. The tension decreases oxygen intake and disrupts the body's balance furthermore, as the vicious circle continues.

Poor breathing biomechanics affect children the most, as their still malleable bones and brain are in prime formative years.

Assess And Strengthen Your Breath Pillar

The process starts with awareness: Catch yourself mouth-breathing throughout your day, whether it be during a stressful moment or a workout, even as you read these words.

Switch to nose-breathing right away and maintain the conscious control for as long as possible, all day long ideally. Workouts are particularly challenging. Mindful meditation is another useful method to practice nose-breathing and restore calm in your body at the same time.

You will breathe for the rest of your life. Optimal mechanics must be a cornerstone in the incredible structure that is your body if you seek to reap strength and longevity. Every breath counts.

This chapter is the first part of an exclusive e-mail series. Subscribe to The Online School of Exercise to follow the rest of the Head To Toe series.


References

Okuro, Renata Tiemi, Morcillo, André Moreno, Ribeiro, Maria Ângela Gonçalves Oliveira, Sakano, Eulália, Conti, Patrícia Blau Margosian, & Ribeiro, José Dirceu. (2011). Mouth breathing and forward head posture: effects on respiratory biomechanics and exercise capacity in children. Jornal Brasileiro de Pneumologia37(4), 471-479. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1806-37132011000400009

Chang, H. R. (2011). Nitric oxide, the mighty molecule: Its benefits for your health and well-being. Jacksonville, FL: The Mind society.

Healthline - Mouth Breathing: Symptoms, Complications, and Treatments

Alex Bernier